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The Role of Genomics in Health Behavior Change: Challenges and Opportunities

Bryan A.D. · Hutchison K.E.
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colo., USA Public Health Genomics 2012;15:139–145 (DOI:10.1159/000335226)

Abstract

The most common causes of morbidity and mortality in the western world can be accounted for by unhealthy patterns of behavior (e.g. smoking, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, and alcohol consumption). Interventions to improve health behavior are sorely needed. To fully realize the potential of health behavior change interventions, be they individual level, community level, social structural, or policy-based, a greater understanding of the extent to which genomics can inform efforts at health behavior change is warranted. In this commentary, we explore three relatively novel possible routes to the integration of genomics and health behavior: (1) genomics may influence health behavior indirectly through intermediate phenotypes, requiring well-defined theory-based and mechanistic models of health behavior, (2) genomics may moderate response to interventions to change health behavior, and (3) genomics, specifically epigenetic variation, may be influenced by health behavior. The integration of genomics into research on interventions to change health behavior is not without challenges and will certainly require transdisciplinary collaborative science to succeed. We provide specific action points for moving the science forward to explore the extent to which genomic information can be harnessed to ultimately decrease morbidity and mortality associated with unhealthy behavior.

 

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